It replaced the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region was formed after voters decided to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law in a January 21 plebiscite. The ratification was announced on January 25, 2019, by the Commission on Elections. This marks the beginning of the transition of the ARMM to the BARMM. Another plebiscite was held in nearby regions that seek to join the area on February 6, 2019. This plebiscite saw 63 of 67 barangays in North Cotabato join Bangsamoro.
Bangsamoro took the place of the ARMM as the only Muslim-majority region in the Philippines.
Early history and arrival of Islam
For the most part of Philippines‘ history, the region and most of Mindanao have been a separate territory, which enabled it to develop its own culture and identity. The westernmost and west-central areas have been the traditional homeland of Muslim Filipinos since the 15th century, even before the arrival of the Spanish, who began to colonize most of the Philippines in 1565. Majority of Mindanao was the homeland of indigenous Lumad groups, who were neither Christians nor Muslims.
Muslim missionaries arrived in Tawi-Tawi in 1380 and started the colonization of the area and the conversion of the native population to Islam. In 1457, the Sultanate of Sulu was founded, and not long after that, the sultanates of Maguindanao and Buayan were also established. Many indigenous Lumad communities were displaced as a result of some of the area’s ‘Islamization’. At the time when most of the Philippines was under Spanish rule, these sultanates maintained their independence and regularly challenged Spanish domination of the Philippines by conducting raids on Spanish coastal towns in the north and repulsing repeated Spanish incursions in their territory. It was not until the last quarter of the 19th century that the Sultanate of Sulu formally recognized Spanish suzerainty, but these areas remained loosely controlled by the Spanish as their sovereignty was limited to military stations and garrisons and pockets of civilian settlements in Zamboanga and Cotabato, until they had to abandon the region as a consequence of their defeat in the Spanish–American War.
Spanish colonial era
The Moros had a history of resistance against Spanish, American, and Japanese rule for over 400 years. The violent armed struggle against the Japanese, Filipinos, Spanish, and Americans is considered by modern Moro Muslim leaders as part of the four centuries long “national liberation movement” of the Bangsamoro (Moro Nation), although the term is only used in mainland Mindanao as those in the Sulu archipelago had a much distinct culture. The 400-year-long resistance against the Japanese, Americans, and Spanish by the Moro Muslims persisted and morphed into a war for independence against the Philippine state.
American colonial era
The United States‘ Insular Government of the Philippine Islands had only been in existence for two years in 1903 when it initiated the “Homestead Program,” which was meant to encourage migration of landless populations from non-muslim areas of the country into the muslim-majority areas in Mindanao. Lanao and Cotabato in particular saw an influx of migrants from Luzon and Visayas. This influx of migrants led to tensions about land ownership and disenfranchisement of Lumads and Muslims, because the mostly-Christian migrants established claims on the land, whereas the native peoples of Mindanao didn’t have a land titling system in place at the time. This US-led Homestead Program, which was later continued or copied by Philippine administrations after independence, is therefore often cited as one of the root-causes of what would later become the larger Moro conflict.
World War II
In 1942, during the early stages of the Pacific War of the Second World War, troops of the Japanese Imperial Forces invaded and overran Mindanao, and the native Moro Muslims waged an insurgency against the Japanese. Three years later, in 1945, combined United States and Philippine Commonwealth Army troops liberated Mindanao, and with the help of local guerrilla units, ultimately defeated the Japanese forces occupying the region.
Under pressure to resolve agrarian unrest in various parts of the country, and noting that Mindanao was rich in mineral resources and weather favorable to agriculture, later Philippine presidents continued the promotion of migration which the American colonial government began in 1903. Massive arrivals of non-Muslim migrants happened particularly during the Commonwealth period under President Manuel Quezon and later under right-wing presidents Ramon Magsaysay and Ferdinand Marcos. As a result, the proportion of indigenous peoples in Mindanao to shrink from majority in 1913 to minority by 1976. The best lands in Mindanao were given to settlers and owners of corporate agriculture, while most development investments and government services were offered to the Christian population. This caused the Muslim population to be backward and rank among the poorest in their own country. The resettlement programme was not entirely peaceful as some settlers managed to obtain land from the native Muslims through harassment and other violent efforts which drove the Muslims out of their own lands.
The Muslims felt alienated by the Philippine government and felt threatened by the migrants’ economic and political domination in their own homeland, the same way the Lumads were displaced centuries ago when Islam arrived in the Philippines. Some Muslim groups to turn to extortion and violence to protect their land and avoid being displaced. These efforts at “integration” are credited for helping the Moro identity in mainland Mindanao crystallize, because the Muslims’ ability to identify with the rest of Filipino nation suffered in light of the threat to their economic and social well being.
As an effect of the resettlement, traditional Muslim leaders (also referred as datu) were also voted out during the polls as Christians, who made up a significant majority of the voters, preferred the Christian politicians over them. These local datus suffered a loss in prestige as they could no longer control the Muslim lands. These politicians lost much of the capabilities they had possessed initially to manage the Muslim populace.
The Jabidah Massacre and its impact
In March 1968, fishermen in Manila Bay rescued a Muslim man named Jibin Arula from the waters. They discovered that he had suffered from gunshot wounds, and he later recounted that he was the lone survivor of what would later be termed the “Jabidah Massacre.”
According to Jibin Arula’s account, the Marcos administration had gathered a group of Tausug recruits for an operation called “Project Merdeka” (merdeka being the Malay “freedom”). The military began training them on the island of Corregidor to form a secret commando unit called “Jabidah,” which would destabilize and take over Sabah.The trainees eventually rejected their mission, for reasons that are still debated by historians today. Jibin Arula said that whatever the reasons behind their objections, all of the recruits aside from him were killed, and he escaped only by pretending to be dead.
Rashid Lucman and the Bangsamoro Liberation Organization
Then Lanao del Sur congressman Haroun al-Rashid Lucman called for Congress to begin proceedings to impeach President Marcos after the “exposé” implied that Marcos was ultimately responsible for the massacre. When his proposal didn’t get enough congressional support, he became convinced that Muslims should rule themselves in Muslim Mindanao – a conviction which led him to eventually establish the Bangsamoro Liberation Organization (BMLO), which later joined forces with the Moro National Liberation Front.
Datu Udtog Matalam and the Muslim Independence Movement
Cotabato Governor Datu Udtog Matalam  saw the anger of the Muslim people of Mindanao and established the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM), which openly called for the secession of the region to create a Muslim state. The MIM did not last long because Datu Udtog Matalam negotiated with Marcos and accepted a post in his cabinet, but many of its members broke away and became the main force of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Martial Law and the creation of the Moro National Liberation Front
On September 23, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos announced that he had placed the entirety of the Philippines, including Muslim Mindanao, under Martial law. While Datu Udtog Matalam’s MIM was already defunct, one of its former members, Nur Misuari, established the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) a month after the declaration of Martial Law, on October 21, 1972.
Proclamation 1081 dissolved the various political groups that had been previously established in the Moro provinces, and with the MIM having already been dissolved, Marcos’ declaration of martial law effectively assured the MNLF, which was more radical than its predecessors, would come to dominate the Moro separatist movement.
The 1976 Tripoli Agreement
On December 23, 1976, the Tripoli Agreement was signed between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) with the deal brokered by then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Under a deal an autonomous region was to be created in Mindanao.
Marcos would later implement the agreement by creating two regional autonomous governments, rather than one, in Regions 9 and 12, which cover ten (instead of thirteen) provinces. This led to the collapse of the peace pact and the resumption of hostilities between the MNLF and Philippine government forces.
Establishment of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
In signing the 1976 Tripoli Agreement, however, Misuari did not consult on of the MNLF’s key commanders, Ustadz Salamat Hashim. Salamat formed a splinter faction along with 57 other MNLF ground commanders, which then became the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
1987 Jeddah Accord
A year after Marcos was ousted from power during the People Power Revolution, the government under Corazon Aquino signed the 1987 Jeddah Accord in Saudi Arabiawith the MNLF, agreeing to hold further discussions on the proposal for autonomy to the entirety of Mindanao and not just the thirteen provinces stated in the 1976 Tripoli Agreement. In 1989, however, an act establishing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was passed. The MNLF demanded that the thirteen Tripoli Agreement provinces, majority of which were Christian provinces, be included in the ARMM, but the government refused; eight of those provinces were predominantly Christian. Shortly thereafter, the government held only four provinces as only Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-tawi voted to be included in the ARMM. The four provinces were the only Muslim-majority provinces at the time.
ARMM and peace deal with the MILF
A plebiscite was held in 1989 for the ratification of the charter which created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) with Zacaria Candao, a counsel of the MNLF as the first elected Regional Governor. In September 2, 1996, a final peace deal was signed between the MNLF and the Philippine government under then President Fidel Ramos. MNLF leader and founder Nur Misuari was elected regional governor three days after the agreement. In 1997 peace talks between the Philippine government and MNLF’s rival group, the MILF, began.
The first deal between the national government and the MILF was made in 2008; the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain. The agreement would be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court many weeks later. Under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, two deals were agreed upon between the national government and the MILF: the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed on October 15, 2012 and the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro in March 27, 2014. which include plans regarding the establishing of a new autonomous region.
Attempts to create a Bangsamoro autonomous region
In 2012, Aquino intended to establish a new autonomous political entity under the name Bangsamoro to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which he called a “failed experiment.” Under his administration, a draft for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) was made but failed to get traction to become law to the Mamasapano clash of January 2015 which involves the murder of 44 mostly-Christian Special Action Force (SAF) personnel by allegedly combined forces of the MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after an operation to kill Malaysian militant Zulkifli Abdhir known by the alias Marwan.
Bangsa Sug declared
In 2018, a unification gathering of all the sultans of the Sulu archipelago and representatives from all ethnic communities in the Sulu archipelago (Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi) commenced in Zamboanga City, declaring themselves as the Bangsa Sug peoples and separating them from the Bangsa Moro peoples of mainland central Mindanao. They cited the complete difference in cultures and customary ways of life as the primary reason for their separation from the Muslims of mainland central Mindanao. They also called the government to establish a separate Philippine state, called Bangsa Sug, from mainland Bangsa Moro or to incorporate the Sulu archipelago to whatever state is formed in the Zamboanga Peninsula, if ever federalism in the Philippines is approved in the coming years.
Bangsamoro Organic Law and 2019 plebiscite
Under the presidency of Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, a new draft for the BBL was made and became legislated into law as the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in 2018. A plebiscite was held on January 21, 2019 to ratify the BOL with majority of ARMM’s voters deciding for the ratification of the law which meant the future abolition of the ARMM and the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Voters in Cotabato City voted to join the new autonomous region while Christian-majority Isabela City voted against inclusion. The Commission on Elections proclaimed that the BOL “deemed ratified” on January 25, 2019.The provincial government of Sulu, where majority voted against inclusion, was also not in favor of the law with its governor challenging the constitutionality of the law before the Supreme Court. Despite voting against inclusion, Sulu was still included in the Bangsamoro region due to rules stated in the BOL, sparking outrage from the natives.
In February 2019, the second round of the plebiscite was held in the province of Lanao del Norte and some towns in North Cotabato. The plebiscite resulted in the inclusion of 63 of 67 villages or barangays in the North Cotabato which participated. It also resulted in the rejection from the province of Lanao del Norte against the bid of 6 of its Muslim-majority towns to join the Bangsamoro, despite the 6 towns (Baloi, Munai, Nunungan, Pantar, Tagoloan and Tangca) opting to join the Bangsamoro by a sheer majority with one town even voting for inclusion by 100%. A major camp of the MILF was within the Muslim areas of Lanao del Norte.
With the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law following a plebiscite on January 21, 2019 the abolition process of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) begins paving way for the formal creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Under the law a transition body, the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA), is to be organized pending the election of the new region’s government officials in 2022. The second part of the plebiscite held on February 6, 2019 expanded the scope of the future Bangsamoro region to include 63 barangays in North Cotabato. The members of the Bangsamoro Transition Authoritytook their oaths on February 22, 2019 along with the ceremonial confirmation of the plebiscite results of both the January 21, and February 6, 2019 votes. The official turnover from the ARMM to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region took place on February 26, 2019 which meant the full abolition of the former.
The inauguration of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the inaugural session of the Bangsamoro Parliament took place on March 29, 2019.